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My wife picked a bike (with trainer wheels) for my 3yo son. It only has a front brake. Having gone over the handlebars once when I was just using the front brake, I'm a bit worried about this. Should I be?

(Now that the bike has arrived, it has a rear coaster brake.)

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    Are you certain the vibe doesn't have a rear brake? Children's bikes usually have coaster brakes rear. These are actuated by back-pedalling. Try if the cranks spin freely backwards or if they are stopped. Then check if that also brakes the rear wheel. – gschenk Sep 24 '18 at 8:08
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    coaster brake == mad-skidz time ! – Criggie Sep 24 '18 at 9:01
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    @Criggie Short distance schmort distance. – David Richerby Sep 24 '18 at 11:13
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    This is normal for kids bikes. The rear hub contains a "coaster brake" activated by pedaling backwards, and that is the primary braking force. The front brake is there mostly because kids think it's neat, but also because two independent brakes are required in some countries. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 24 '18 at 23:13
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    If you're going over the handlebars when using the front brake, you need to improve your technique. On clean tarmac, using just the front brake is the usual way to stop. – Batman Sep 25 '18 at 2:52
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Small children usually do not have a grip strong enough to brake effectively with brake levers on the handle bars.

Neither do they have enough coordination to modulate brakes. This means if they were able to brake the front wheel effectively they would indeed be at risk to go over the bars.

Typically, children's bikes have coaster brakes. These allow to stop by back pedaling. Which is an elegant solution: If the child is capable of accelerating by pedaling, it is also capable of braking by performing the inverse motion.

  • I witnessed a case where the child was not capable of braking, namely going down a moderately steep hill; I think they had the strength but not the technique. Since the road fed into a larger one which could have had traffic, I rode alongside them down the hill ready to push them onto the verge until I could see that it was safe for them to roll out into the larger road. – PJTraill Sep 24 '18 at 17:49
  • Further to my previous comment, I feel you should qualify If the child is capable etc. with on the level, and replace also capable of braking ... motion with strong enough to brake ... motion, once it masters the technique, since back-pedalling can seem unaccustomed. – PJTraill Sep 25 '18 at 23:16
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Everyone has to fall off their bike sooner or later. I get my kids to ride around on grass secure in the knowledge they will crash or fall and learn an important lesson before they're old and big enough to hit the road.

So while I pad them up and have helmets, I don't go overboard on worrying about their safety.

Should you worry?

Not unduly, if the child is riding on grass and reasonably dressed then they should be fine.

  • @PJTraill edited – Kilisi Sep 24 '18 at 22:20
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For one, your kid's bike likely has a coaster brake. Check that. If it doesn't, either add a second brake or buy a bike with a coaster brake.

Apart from the danger of going over the bars, there is also this: Every vehicle must have two independent brake systems, otherwise it's simply not fit for the road. This is independent of the type of vehicle, and bikes are no exception.

This is both a legal thing (at least in my country, and very likely in any other sane jurisdiction), and a safety issue: Brakes can, and do fail. You don't want your child sitting on its bike going downhill when the cable actuating the brake fails, and not have a backup available. You must have a backup to avoid the worst. I have completely lost track of how many braking cables I've managed to tear, and I've been very thankful for my coaster brake each time.

So, as I said, either your child's bike has a coaster brake, or you need to do something about it.


Daniel R Hicks tells me that some US states allow coaster-brake-only bikes. So, I guess, I have to exclude the US legal system from the list of sane jurisdictions. Maybe they see it as a personal freedom to be allowed to endanger yourself?

Anyway, while your state may allow you to use a coaster-brake-only bike, the safety issue remains: Chains can and do jump off the sprocket, or even break. Especially when they are older and lengthened from wear. If that happens going downhill on a coaster-brake-only bike, you are screwed. If you care about safety, one-brake bikes are just a no-no.

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    Most of the US does not require two independent brakes for bikes with coaster brakes. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 24 '18 at 23:16
  • @DanielRHicks You mean, they only require the single coaster brake and no front wheel brake whatsoever? That would be pretty dangerous when your chain jumps off the sprocket! – cmaster Sep 25 '18 at 6:21
  • That's what I mean. The frequency of a chain jumping off the sprocket on a child's bike is very low. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 25 '18 at 11:55
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    @Michael - I have difficulty envisioning a case where a properly functioning coaster brake would be insufficient to stop the bike. II'm guessing you do not have much experience with coaster brakes. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 25 '18 at 17:35
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    @cmaster I would expect a 3yo's bike to be way too small by the time they're six but I don't have kids so maybe I'm overestimating how fast they grow. – David Richerby Sep 25 '18 at 18:40

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